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"Overtones for Beauty of Sound"

McLane Sound Image.png
Miascowsky Symphony #21 Philadelphia Orchestra
Ormandy...1949 Complete
Miaskowsky Symphony # 21 - Philadelphia/Ormandy 1949
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Sol Schonbach-Bassoon

Mason Jones-Horn

Marcel Tabuteau-Oboe

Ralph McLane-Clarinet

​In 1947 the Philadelphia Orchestra presented a performance of the Mozart's "Sinfonia Concertante" with soloists Marcel Tabuteau, Oboe, Ralph McLane, Clarinet, Mason Jones, Horn, Sol Schonbach, Bassoon and Eugene Ormandy conducting.

Transcription disks of  this "lost" performance have surfaced and were found on the: "Oboe- Lasting Influence of Tabuteau" facebook page. A very interesting page for all wind players! You can listen here, below the photo of Messrs. Schoenbach, Tabuteau, Jones and McLane at rehearsal.



Ralph McLane 

Anatomy of a Legend

There are many talented artists who never get past banality for lack of passion. One needs knowledge, talent and, also, an unquenchable passion and determination for what one wants to achieve. Ralph McLane had the talent and the passion and something more. McLane was passionate about a certain quality of clarinet sound. The ideal of sound he heard in his imagination, which came through his instrument so beautifully, originated from the old French School of Klose, Rose, the Selmer brothers, Mimart, H. Lefebre, Verney, whose representatives in McLaneʼs time were Cahuzac, Hamelin, Bonade. Ralph McLane, like many other young American musicians, found themselves on the long sea voyage to France for direct contact with that school.

McLane was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, December 19,1906. He began to study clarinet at the age of nine, first from Elizier Therrien who had been a pupil of Cyril Rose, Porteau and Selmer. He then studied with a clarinetist named Vannini from the Boston Symphony and won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory. He then studied with Gaston Hamelin who was principal clarinet with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

McLane told Clarinetist David Weber how he came to study with Hamelin. "As a young man, he arrived late to a Boston Symphony concert and, when he finally got to his seat, the beautiful clarinet solo from the Oberon Overture was about to begin. This being the first time he heard Hamelin, he was completely taken by his sound and thought it to be the most beautiful tone he had ever heard. At that moment he decided he must study with Hamelin. When Hamelin returned to France in 1931 McLane went with him for a further two years of study. In France, McLane solidified his concept of clarinet sound and the systematic techniques for the development of the whole embouchure that were so important to the French adherents of double lip playing."

McLane:“The really fine French clarinetists play with a double embouchure. Their method of practicing scales develops the muscles in both the upper and lower lip regions to a very high degree. Practice slowly thirds, perfect chords, and all intervals, constantly thinking of each interval before you play it. Progress will be slow, but the embouchure will respond, and eventually will automatically prepare and support the change in lip pressure and resistance of the reed before each interval, whether it is one tone, or an octave or more. You cannot develop the lower part of the embouchure and not the upper..... A very well developed embouchure looks firm and is so, thus requiring the minimum of jaw pressure....*

It was 1933 during the height of the “Great Depression” that McLane returned to New York. Life for everyone, except a privileged few, was difficult. Government programs helped working people but it was still a tough time. McLane found what jobs he could and even convinced a student or two of Bonadeʼs to study with him instead, saying he could teach them everything Bonade knew in two lessons! There were more clarinet players than jobs in those days, and one had to be resourceful and aggressive to survive.

According to David Weber, early on McLane didn’t have much orchestra experience since there weren’t any training orchestras in those days. One could only learn in small theater orchestras. Ralph had some introductions to NBC, but at that time they had no symphony orchestra - only an ensemble called "Hugo Mariani and his Salon Orchestra". He was given an opportunity to play second clarinet to Louis Greene but Ralph thought he should play first clarinet and convinced Greene to move over. The inevitable happened: McLane’s inexperience ruined the broadcast and he was fired. Later there were auditions for the Music Hall Orchestra but McLane didn’t get the job. He was terribly frustrated, yet he was convinced he had “something to say”  and would not give up.

Soon after, his fortune changed. Ralph became principal clarinet with the CBS and WOR Radio Orchestras. The second clarinet player at CBS was Guy Disair. McLane got his great Henri Chedeville mouthpiece from him. Disair had two Chedeville 8’s and he gave one to McLane, which McLane used until the end of his career. After McLanesʼ death the Chedeville was given to his premiere student Harold Wright.

Those who knew Ralph McLane said he had a marvelous sense of humor. He was artistic and drew caricatures. He could play all kinds of parodies on the clarinet, including “ricky-ticky” jazz. His recording of “Rhapsody In Blue” with the Philadelphia Orchestra gives testimony to his flexibility. Above all he was obsessed with playing beautifully, even to the point of miscounting bars, and was a perfectionist about sound and the embouchure. He took a good, healthy amount of mouthpiece in his mouth and kept the clarinet, not in the position that Bonade did, but almost on a 45 degree angle. He held it up, not quite to the German style, but more like Hamelin.* Bonade insisted that students hold their clarinets down, close to the body. It was more a problem of Bonade’s embouchure, since he had an overbite and couldn’t hold the clarinet up even even if he wanted to. Robert Marcellus, a Bonade student, also had an overbite and could play beautifully with the clarinet down and close to the body. McLane didn’t play that way and he, too, had a beautiful, well-centered tone.

McLane was so convinced that double lip embouchure aided in producing a beautiful and centered tone that he made it a requirement for his students to change to double lip, unless their upper lip was too short to make the use of double lip practical. David Weber quotes McLane about sound, "You have to feel the tone; it has to grab you. There has to be substance

in the core. It has to be wet (as opposed to dry and hard)." Weber goes on to say, "He would always talk about colors, about blowing through the clarinet, not into it, and sending the tone across the room, thinking your sound should project to the last row in the balcony.*"

McLane wrote,“Simply stretching the upper lip over the teeth does not mean you have a double embouchure. An embouchure can be developed only over a long period of constant practice and with the proper guidance. I know of many fine clarinetists who play beautifully with a single embouchure, but I maintain that their control and ease of playing would improve with a double embouchure. Naturally, this improvement would enable them to play even more beautifully......

......I should like to sum up the benefits of a double lip embouchure:

1) It is a very sensitive gauge of lip and jaw pressure.
2) It makes for greater ease in playing.

3) Drawing the upper lip down over the teeth opens the oral

chamber, or sound box resonator, which produces a free, fuller, and more mellow tone. Different shadings of tone are made with greater ease.

4) It automatically supports the tone from one interval to another.

5) It allows adjustment of intonation without changing the quality of tone. Holds pitch in forte passages.

6) One can take more mouthpiece in the mouth with complete control.

7) Endurance is just as good after good muscular development. One should practice standing up at all times.

There are some players whose upper teeth formation prevents them from stretching the lip over the teeth. Excellent results can be gotten by using the upper lip in conjunction with the teeth - using the lip as a prop to keep the teeth off the mouthpiece as much as possible. This will develop the embouchure to a certain extent, as well as force the lower lip to do more work, thereby developing its strength and endurance. There are no advantages which the single embouchure has over the double. Moreover, one can adjust almost immediately to a single embouchure, but only time, patience and practice can achieve the goal of a developed embouchure. I do not claim that this is the only way to get good results; I do say it is a way to improve on good results.”

McLane brought his passion for beautiful playing into the teaching studio. Students of McLane have said that one had to listen to him play and observe to learn from him.* I have not met a student of McLaneʼs who did not have the greatest love and respect for their teacher as an artist and a human being. John Mohler describes the time he spent with McLane:

“The following are transcriptions by me of prerequisites originally in McLaneʼs hand. The originals were on paper then worn and only in fragmentary form:

TONE QUALITY: same pp as ff; must be pleasing, flexible and rich in overtones"

TECHNIQUE: The ability to play even the most difficult passages with the greatest of ease and always have reserve (be able to play faster or slower than required/expected)

STACCATO: release of tone, length of which is determined by the amount of time the tongue is off the reed. (I think “release” is particularly appropriate rather than “attack” -jm-)

LEGATO: Carrying tone from one note to another without a change in the air column ( or noise with fingers), thereby creating no noticeable difference in the dynamics from one note to another. Support, half the value of a note, before an interval; support the air column for change in reed and air column resistance.”

Mohler continues, “McLaneʼs emphasis was constantly on extreme legato playing. His was incredibly so - smooth as glass. The sound was always in focus, centered, compact, projecting, never thin or too thick, and always singing. He would tell me, “you sound as if youʼre falling down stairs!” However, he was also an encouraging and compassionate person. One time at his apartment after a lesson, he invited me to stay to watch a New York Yankees World Series game. This was 1947 during TVʼs infancy - rabbit ears and all. The picture was very “snowy” and he was trying all sorts of adjustments with the ears, becoming more and more exasperated by the second! Fortunately, something eventually worked. His wife said to me later, “He always wants to make everything perfect!” He carried that ambition into his playing and into his teaching as well. He required reeds, mouthpieces, ligatures, barrels, and clarinets to be in tip-top condition. Thank goodness for the availability of Hans Moennig!”

More from Mohler, “With the exception of a month spent in Carmel, California, with Rosario Mazzeo in 1977, McLane was the only “artist” teacher I ever studied with, though several others were excellent in their own ways. While I often felt McLaneʼs teaching method was somewhat unstructured, there were almost always new challanges presented each week. Assignments practiced were frequently uncalled for; instead, something different often appeared. This was a bit upsetting to me; only later could I realize the necessity of having to remain flexible. There was so much to cover and, of course, so little time. Embouchure development was the prime objective of practice. There may have been more structure than I realized in those days.”

“McLane always taught by example. Unless he had a concert later that day, he would play at every session. ( He was always very protective of his embouchure.) This demonstration itself was a marvelous and inspiring experience, as I could hear his sound “up close” as well as in the orchestra from one of the seats in the Academy, high up in the “peanut gallery” every Friday afternoon. McLane's magnificent performance abilities were extremely motivational, to say the least. Had he stood on his head to perform, we students would have tried that, too!”

“My study with Ralph McLane began in 1947; I entered Curtis in 1948. It was during the 1949-50 season that his illness progressed. To see oneʼs idol begin to fade away was a shattering experience for me. I went to the Marine Band in May, 1950. Less that a year later, as I recall, Ralph McLane died, but not before, somehow, heroically performing the Copland Concerto. I have often regretted not remaining closer to him.”

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